Interior Design Inspiration, Amy’s Trip to Finland Part 1

I have been a fan of Nordic design for a long time, ever since I studied architecture at the Danish International Study program.  I say Nordic design instead of Scandinavian design because Finland, the site of my latest adventure, is actually not considered a Scandinavian country.   Did you know that linguistically, Finnish is not related to the other Scandinavian languages?  It has more in common with Hungarian than it does with Swedish, the language spoken in the country’s western neighbor.  I was traveling with Danish friends (who were my host parents when I studied at DiS in Copenhagen 20 years ago).  They had to use English everywhere we went as well!

But from a design perspective, there are definitely some common threads across all of Nordic design:  clean lines, and light colors to counter the long, dark days of winter and to embrace the midnight sun when summer does finally roll around again.   Being there in late March, summer was difficult to imagine.   Ice was packed down on all the sidewalks in Helsinki, and yet the locals kept kindly wishing us a lovely spring day.  One thing that did add to the warmth, though, was the incredible hospitality of the Finnish people.   My husband was invited to Helsinki for work and the generosity and graciousness of our hosts made the mood truly sunny.  It was a novel experience for me to feel so welcomed and integrated into a new culture so wholeheartedly.

With that introduction, here is an overflowing Marimekko bag of design highlights from our trip.   I loved snowshoeing in the forest, and our side trip to the Estonian storybook city of Talinn, and even how the gravestones of deceased Finnish leaders, are contemporary and unconventional by American standards. But for purposes of my down2earth interior design blog, I will focus on interiors and product design.

1. Hotel Fabian

What’s black and white with a little bit of ochre all over?  Our delightful hotel.  These gorgeous chairs were pretty difficult to get out of, but the style and service was outstanding at this little hotel.   We enjoyed our white, sunny room on the top floor. Check out Hotel Fabian >

Interior Design Inspiration | Hotel Fabian Finland

Interior Design Inspiration | Hotel Fabian Finland

2. Church design

This nice Jewish girl enjoyed some beautiful church interiors while in Finland, including this simple white Lutheran church interior on the island of Suominlinna, or the acoustically perfect Church in the Rock.

Interior Design Inspiration | Lutheran Church of Suominlinna

Interior Design Inspiration | Church of the Rock Finland

3. Forefront of Sauna design at Loyly in the harbor

Don’t worry:  bathing suits were actually mandatory at this Finnish sauna (hence: mostly tourists).  Check out Loyly > 

Forefront of Sauna | interior Design inspiration Finland

4. Embracing Play

Moomin characters from the stories of Finnish-Swedish writer and artist Tove Jansson (1914-2001) were everywhere:  on sheets, glassware, ceramics, even on a joint marketing effort with Fiskars scissors, another famous Finnish brand. For more on Moomin, click here.

Moomin characters | Interior Design Inspiration Finland

I also thought that I had spied a play space at the Helsinki airport that captured Finnish style for kids with a small Nordic playhouse set among birch trunks.   But it turns out, I was wrong!  In fact, what I saw as a cabin used by Ryan Zhu — the Chinese “influencer” who voluntarily chose to live in a cabin in Helsinki Airport for 30 days from October 10, 2017. Click here to learn more.

Well, either way, now it seems like a pretty fun Nordic environment for kids to run around while waiting for their plane.


5.  The coziest restaurants you ever did see.

We had some fun checking out Wanha Mylly and Juuri.   But my favorite building of all:   Kappeli, where you can sit in one of the little rounded glass rooms at the corners to enjoy your coffee.  Kappeli  is situated right between market square and the esplanade, in this beautifully ornate building. Click here to view.

Image from Kappeli Bar


6. Ceramics

Fell in love with the stuff at Arabia, and yes, I treated myself to the blue and white pitcher.  It now sits on my dining room table and I keep tulips in it.

Ceramics from Finland | Interior Design Inspiration


7. Design by Alvar Aalto

His house was a total bust.  We aimed to tour the Alvar Aalto house at 2pm, and getting there involved a couple of jaunts on public transportation.   We didn’t find the proper tram all that quickly, and we got to the Aalto house maybe two minutes after 2pm.   Private tours run at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm in March.  Maybe they’re very strict about locking the doors if you’re not there exactly on time.   We could see people in there but no one answered the door even when we rang the bell.   So I missed out on these interiors:

aalto vase in Iittala | Interior Design inspiration Finland

But I did get to see many a classic aalto vase in Iittala.  To learn more, click here.

Each vase takes piece takes 10 hours, 12 craftsmen and a temperature of 1,110C to make, according to the Financial Times. Check out Iittala> 


8. The Helsinki Design Museum 

The Helsinki Design Museum is a MUST. In part two of this Finnish travel series, I’ll be writing a post devoted to my afternoon spent at the Design Museum.  Click here to continue the Nordic design journey!


Cover photo credit: Design District of Helsinki

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